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Sean William Scott

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Friday, September 24, 2004

Why Movies Based on Comic Books Aren't Any Good, Part 1 

The American film-going public is not going to sit through two hours of an attempt to seriously replicate that look. And yes, I have seen the trailer and I have seen the stills. They're laughable. The audience is going to take one look at the bright yellow guy and burst out laughing.

And that is why trying to turn a comic book into a movie while remaining "faithful" to the souce material is a bad idea. Because comic books and movies are not the same thing. What works on the printed page in static form, design-wise, is not going to be the same thing when actual human beings are in motion replicating it.

Likewise, and particularly in the case of super-hero comics and movies, there are certain elements to capes-and-tights stories that through repeated exposure comic readers have learned to accept without question. Probably something like 99% of the people who go to see movies based on super-hero comics have never actually read any of the comics the film is based on. So you have to explain what comic readers accept to them, and in such a way that it sounds plausible to them. But more often than not, this just points out the absurdities of the premise.

Remember the big to-do over the possibility of a Green Lantern movie? How everyone was upset that it was going to be a comedy, instead of the grand epic melodrama that every Green Lantern fan felt it should be. He makes giant green boxing gloves with a magic ring that's powerless against anything colored yellow. It's an inane premise for a character. It is not going to translate to the general audience as a "serious" character.

However, taking liberties with the source material often makes for super-hero movies that, if not actually good, are at least enjoyable on their own merits. People ranted for months about how the X-Men wouldn't be wearing costumes in the movies. They complained that the leather uniform look made all the characters "gay." Which, in light of the very obvious mutation as metaphor for homosexuality theme that Bryan Singer went with, said quite a bit about the open-mindedness of the average X-Men fan. But here's the thing: the very concept of the X-Men is absurd...people controlling the weather, turning blue and growing tails, changing shape, shooting lasers out of their's silly and it's nonsensical. Putting them all in brightly colored skin-tight costumes would have completely alienated the film's target audience. Putting the characters into "real-world" costumes grounds them a little bit and makes them more relatable to the audience.

This is not a trend that pertains solely to movies based on super-hero comics, however. It applies to mainstream comics works as well. A faithful adaptation of Ghost World would not have been a success. It would have been a meandering, story-less exercise in wasting film. So, they took the characters and put them in a new situation. And it worked.

Of course, the danger in all adaptations, comics and non-comics alike, is that the producers will fundamentally miss the point of the source material. This is a particular danger when it comes to more intellectually demanding pieces. It often becomes apparent that either the film's creators aren't smart enough to figure out what the original author was doing, or they don't think the audience is. My favorite comics example of this is the From Hell movie. It's almost as if the producers of the film didn't know that the Jack the Ripper killings are an established historical fact, not an invention of Alan Moore and Eddie Campbell, and thus could have made the same exact film without having to actually give Mssrs. Moore and Campbell any money. The point of the book was not "Who is Jack the Ripper?" and to turn an adaptation of it into a whodunnit movie completely misses the larger message of the work.


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